When I met up with Idaho Free Skiers Association founder Jason Mac, I was in shock when he began to speak. Initially I thought he might be speaking in tongues: "misty fives, indy grabs, rodeo 900s ..."
- Linda Hodges
- Jason Mac, founder of Idaho Free Skiers Association
I needed some explanations in order to understand, and the conversation went like this:
Ryan Peck: Jason, I keep it simple. I ski but my turns are tele and I have never jumped on purpose.
Jason Mac: Right. Well, a misty five is a front flip with one and half turns. An indy grab is a ...
RP: Wait, skiers are supposed to do that?
JM: As long as you have a good bumper to ...
RP: You're doing it again, Jason.
JM: What? Oh yeah, well a "bumper" is basically a jump.
When you can get them to slow down enough to talk, it quickly becomes evident to any outsider that free skiers speak their own language.
Free skiing is a sport that, in recent years, has been growing faster than antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and Boise's venture into free skiing includes the recent formation of the Idaho Free Skiers Association.
In past decades, skiing was the "hotdog" sport. For proof, look no further than the movie Hot Dog. (OK, maybe a look a little further.) However, in the '90s, thrill-seeking kids abandoned the rigors of skiing in exchange for the more aggressive nature of snowboarding. And then, as the century was closing, skiing made a comeback.
A new generation of skiers stepped into their twin-tip skis, blazed through the terrain park and then attacked the whole mountain. They called it "free skiing" and this group of skiers thought nothing of doing 900s (two-and-a-half turns) over gaping expanses of rocks. It wasn't long before these new daredevil skiers wanted to compete. Enter the International Free Skiing Association (IFSA), the governing body of competitive free skiers.
"The IFSA is good," Mac stated simply. "All of the judges at contests are skiers. They keep it real."
The IFSA puts on contests all over the world and their rules don't really sound like rules.
"They judge skiers on things such as the gnarly-ness of the line, fluidity, speed, amount of air. You have an entry point and an exit point on the mountain. You can basically do whatever you want in between." The worst you can do is wreck.
"You are disqualified if you wreck. It happens though. I once butt-checked on a 50-foot cliff and had to get 27 stitches in my left cheek," laughed Mac. "It wasn't pretty. Want to see the scar?"
I took his word for it and opted not to have him show me proof of his mishap.
The prize purses at IFSA contests can be huge. Winners can go home with tens of thousands of dollars and are often immediately hounded by companies offering sponsorship and endorsement deals. But it isn't the prospect of an endorsement that drives most free skiers. As Mac put it, free skiers want to "see how good [they] can really be."
And it was that motivation that inspired Mac and friends, including, Matt Morgan, Ben Wallace and Rick Yunit, to start the Idaho Association of Free Skiers.
"We realized we were all IFSA members and decided that we would be better off if we combined resources," said Mac. "We basically got the team some sponsorships and began our own affiliation. One of our greatest supporters has been Tamarack Resort."
The association also received a sponsorship from Teton Gravity Research (TGR), producers of the 2005 ski and snowboard film The Tangerine Dream. The opportunity to bring TGR film premieres to Idaho has proven to be a great opportunity for Mac and crew. "Tamarack basically takes care of all the upfront costs," explained Mac. "Then everything we bring in at the premieres goes into the Idaho Freeskiing Association coffer."
Funds raised through TGR premieres are allocated for two purposes: first, for traveling to IFSA contests, and second, for developing the next generation of Idaho's free skiers. It's the young whipper-snappers that have become the main focus for the Idaho Free Skiing Association.
"I went skiing with this 15-year-old last year. He hit this 20-foot cliff and did a misty five," Mac recalled (note: supposedly 20 feet is not enough room to do a misty five). "I went off the same cliff and did a 720 and the kid was like, 'I didn't think someone your age could do a 720,'" laughed Mac. "Kids these days are not afraid to talk smack and they can totally back it up."
Like all athletes, free skiers have a shelf life due to the number of injuries they sustain. But in between the dislocated shoulders, lost teeth, broken jaws and ACL tears that come with the territory, Mac and crew are finding a payoff in helping the up-and-coming kids from Idaho. But in the end, it is all for the love of skiing. "We've always just wanted to ski," said Mac. "It is what gets us up in the morning. We don't want to get rich. We just love skiing and one of our biggest motivations is the kids."
For more information on Idaho Free Skiers Association e-mail Jason Mac at firstname.lastname@example.org.